Observation of the fastest chemical processes in the radiolysis of water

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Science  10 Jan 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6474, pp. 179-182
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz4740

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The “hole” story of water ionization

The direct observation of the cationic hole H2O+ that is formed in liquid water after ionization has been a long-standing experimental challenge. Previous attempts using optical and ultraviolet techniques have failed to reveal its key spectroscopic signature during ultrafast transformation into a OH radical. Loh et al. address this gap by using intense, ultrafast x-ray pulses from an x-ray free electron laser at ∼530 electron volts. They found compelling evidence for the formation H2O+ and its decay to an OH radical by a proton transfer mechanism and elucidated the other fastest–time scale steps in the early-time dynamics of ionized liquid water.

Science, this issue p. 179


Elementary processes associated with ionization of liquid water provide a framework for understanding radiation-matter interactions in chemistry and biology. Although numerous studies have been conducted on the dynamics of the hydrated electron, its partner arising from ionization of liquid water, H2O+, remains elusive. We used tunable femtosecond soft x-ray pulses from an x-ray free electron laser to reveal the dynamics of the valence hole created by strong-field ionization and to track the primary proton transfer reaction giving rise to the formation of OH. The isolated resonance associated with the valence hole (H2O+/OH) enabled straightforward detection. Molecular dynamics simulations revealed that the x-ray spectra are sensitive to structural dynamics at the ionization site. We found signatures of hydrated-electron dynamics in the x-ray spectrum.

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